Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 18, 2006
By: Jonathan Dworkin

Jonathan Dworkin, a medical student in his final year at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, is travelling in Iraqi Kurdistan from January to March of 2006. This is his third dispatch for the Washington Monthly.


AT HOME IN THE NEW KURDISTAN....In the bazaar in Sulaimania I can buy almost anything. It's my second day in town, and I'm walking through a byzantine maze of stone passages where merchants sell everything from swords to bedroom sets. It's the latter that my friend Dr. Nazm is interested in, because he and his wife Dr. Shosha are trying to furnish their new home. They are in their mid-20s, roughly my age and recently married. In a scene repeated throughout the bazaar Dr. Nazm enters into fierce negotiations with a merchant, their voices ranging from annoyed to amused.

Dr. Shosha picks up a long, sharp knife, and points it at her husband. "I am terroreest," she flirts. Seven or eight minutes later, long after I've lost interest, Dr. Nazm ends his verbal assault and money changes hands. The couple walks away with four triple A batteries. "For my camera," Dr. Nazm explains.

With the mountains in the background, Sulaimania is prettier than ramshackle Erbil. It is also in the midst of an economic boom. The approach to town reveals new tree-lined walkways and construction sites. Older buildings crumbling from lack of maintenance are being replaced everywhere by new ones, despite the fact that these too will be poorly maintained. People are spending discretionary income on consumer goods even as the service sector remains undeveloped. An insufficient electric grid? Buy a generator. A crater in the middle of your road? Buy a truck.

It occurs to me that this is the kind of city that Americans love. Centered around the bazaar it is hectic and optimistic, and its people are hungry for knowledge of the outside world. Whenever I mention I'm an American I am met with smiles and questions about my country. Each person that I speak with long enough reveals a horror story from the days of Baathist rule, but the stories hardly seem relevant now. Even the security presence heavy by any standard is unobtrusive amidst the clammer of pedestrian traffic.

The journey from Erbil to Sulaimania is also a transition from KDP to PUK-governed Kurdistan. Both parties are too powerful for their own good, and each finances a separate peshmerga force as well as a large private economy that serves as a patronage system in their respective zones. Party checkpoints along the road delineate the boundaries. The mobile phone system is also divided, with AsiaCell (PUK) users in Sulaimania unable to communicate with Korek (KDP) users in Erbil. Even the hotel I am staying in is part of the PUK financial fiefdom. The situation is currently peaceful, but armed political parties are in their nature unstable things, and I wonder who stands to benefit if the system ossifies. Perhaps political Islam, a thought that makes the secular Kurdish politicians shudder.

Getting Kurds to talk openly about this situation has been a challenge the past few days, and I suspect the hesitation in voicing criticism is itself a barrier to change. "Free speech yes," says Dr. Nazm, "but not as free."

Meetings with government ministers and university professors are a requirement before we can begin our work in Halabja. It's a bureaucratic minefield, but I am fortunate because my Kurdish friends know how to navigate it. Most of the time I am required only to keep my mouth shut or to eat something. Given the chance to watch the Kurds move about their city, this suits me fine.


Posts in this series:

January 18: At Home in the New Kurdistan
January 14: City of Refugees
January 11: First Impressions

Jonathan Dworkin 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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Comments

Both parties are too powerful for their own good,


I know another country where this is true...

Posted by: craigie on January 18, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

""""Each person that I speak with long enough reveals a horror story from the days of Baathist rule, """"

LIARS! LIARS! LIARS! NEXT THEY EB SAYING SADDAM ATTACKED THEM WITH WMD WHEN WE KNOW HE WAS A PEACEFUL AGRARIAN REFORMER.

Posted by: Patton on January 18, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Surely not here in the USA. The Democratic Party couldn't be more feckless and impotent than they are right now.


Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 18, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

I believe that saddam attacked them with uppercase keyboards - keyboards he got from right here in the US of A.

Posted by: craigie on January 18, 2006 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Please. Those keyboards are Chinese-made. That will make it easier to replace them with the Mandarin version when the debts get called in.

Posted by: shortstop on January 18, 2006 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

"Please. Those keyboards are Chinese-made"

You laugh, but the Chinese government has a well-known history of paying people to troll blog comments (admittedly, most of the known cases involve Chinese blogs), and has also a history of trying to manipulate US politics (see, e. g., Katrina Leung).

Patton and his ilk are paid agents of the Chinese government, and notably clumsy ones at that--no other conclusion is reasonable.

No one could really think the things they say on this board--they're simply trying to sabotage rational political discourse and thereby deflect the US into disasterous policy choices.

Why do they hate America? ;)

Posted by: rea on January 18, 2006 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for the posts, Kevin.

Posted by: Red State Mike on January 18, 2006 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

I find it interesting, but not surprising, that the best posting on this blog (real life accounts of this war, like the story here) goes with SEVEN comments. Seven. This points out that partisans on either side of the artificial political divide are part of the problem, not the solution. this blog allows thoughful insight into the problems we face today in this world. But the normally heavy-tongues on the Left and the Right have no comment. Perhaps because this sort of "stuff" is too...normal....too.....un-partisan.....
To all those people I sayL if you choose to be part of the problem in this country (divisive, and useless, debating and posturing), dont' be surprised if one day, all of you will become irrlevant.

Posted by: Chris on January 18, 2006 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

Its not their fault there are no comments here. Liberals can't see stuff that doesn't fit the script.

Posted by: McA on January 19, 2006 at 6:17 AM | PERMALINK

Getting Kurds to talk openly about this situation has been a challenge the past few days, and I suspect the hesitation in voicing criticism is itself a barrier to change. "Free speech yes," says Dr. Nazm, "but not as free."

Posted by: dogger on January 19, 2006 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

"Liberals can't see stuff that doesn't fit the script."

That's because they are so intellectual. They have raised "confirmation bias" to the level of an Olympic sport.

I suspect that is why Kevin is starting to get tired of them. He, unfortunately, was cursed with a need to think to go with his correct set of feelings on issues. Leads him to cross the liberal base plenty of times. Still, I was disappointed to see that this makes only comment 11 on such a good post.

Posted by: tool of some sort on January 19, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

"HE WAS A PEACEFUL AGRARIAN REFORMER"

That's why he had so many barrels of insecticide buried all over the place, and mobile labs to produce low environmental impact pesticides too. Alwas forward thinking, was Saddam.

What is the difference between insecticides and nerve gas? A slight tweak and deniability.

Posted by: tool of some sort on January 19, 2006 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

democrats screwed up......ONCE AGAIN....in their questioning of Alito. rather than talking about the old abortion standby, which most Americans 1) do not make use of, and 2) find repulsive, democrats should have focused on the increase of executive Power and Privilege that Alito has stood by and found to be legal. Rather than focusing on the battle they have already lost, long ago, but have yet to concede defeat on (abortion), they ought to have fought hard on the front of the Unitary Executive, the idea that the president IS the law. More than anything else, our current republican party has been promoting the precedent of presidential power.

the next president, citing precedent, will only increase that further.

Alas, the republicans and their supporters are the primary fascists in this country, and deserve their fate, but the democrats are the ultimate appeasers of power plays, much like republicans blame them for being internationally.

Some day, of course, Americans will wake up and realize that the Party Hegemony that is now our country has taken away anyone's rights to protest this power grab.

When asked, long ago, what it was that the Constitutional Congress had given its people, Benjamin Franklin said: a republic, madam, if you can keep it.

This generation, the Me First Baby Boomers, has chosen to lose the republic. May each generation after us curse us for our complacence.

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